The Beat of The Drum! – Q&A with Mikael Wikman

Mikael Wikman is a Professional Drummer with over 25 years’ experience and records in his own studio in Stockholm, Sweden. Besides studying music in Södra Latins Senior Music High School, he studied at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm and drums in New York. Throughout his career, Mikael has performed with a wide range of artists, bands and orchestras in a variety of musical styles and genres. He also loves to teach and runs many workshops in Sweden throughout high schools and music schools, including The Music Pedagogy Institute.

Besides touring and teaching, Mikael is busy recording in his studio with song writers, musicians and producers from Sweden, England, Norway and USA.

“I have always been fascinated with how to make awesome drum sounds in the studio. It’s always so beautiful when you hear the finished product of a drum sound that has been carefully produced.”

Please tell us the about your childhood experiences in music and how you fell in love with drumming.

My parents made their living as classical pianists. I got plenty of music from home and I also used to accompany my parents to different concerts and musicals. My first instrument was actually the Cello but I remember the change when I was 12 Years old. This was when my mother took me to a musical. There was a drummer in that band who played this huge drum kit. I don’t know how many toms and cymbals there were but he played the songs with so much intensity and energy. That experience alone was enough to get a 12-year-old kid excited and willing to dedicate time to explore the drums.

My mother was also kind enough to actually call that drummer asking for private lessons. He was a great inspiration and he also helped me later on to get me into a great music school. We had many years of friendship later on.

Some musicians are self-taught and many have never attended any music school – what was your experience and how did your musical education help you?

I think for me it was great to have teachers guiding me and to develop my playing in a more effective way. They were also a huge inspiration for me since they were all great players and had so much great musical knowledge. I usually borrowed records and videos from my teachers and I explored new things in music every week. I think great teachers and mentors are very important.

Congratulations on opening your own studio – can you describe the differences between playing on a live stage and the recording studio?

Thanks. We probably have more time to care about sound and detail in a recording situation. In a live situation we need to get everything workable in a very short time.

I will usually explore more small nuances when recording. For example, how does a drummer balance a drumkit when playing and to notice how hard he hits the snare, kick drum or a high hat when playing a song. Small nuances like this can make huge differences in a recording situation.

Can you share a typical day at work or on a recording project? What are the processes and challenges?

I mostly work with pro musicians so everything is usually quite confident, smooth and easy. I usually take one or two hours to prepare before musicians arrive, to deal with any technical issues. I want to be fast with everything when we start a session so the musicians can focus on their music. We want to be able to capture a positive vibe and energy when recording and waiting around too long sorting out technical issues can take that away. Sometimes we’ll do some arranging and pre-production over a coffee, to make a session smooth as well. When everyone knows what to do, the actual recording is usually done pretty quickly.

When budget allows, we usually spend more time experimenting with different sounds and trying out new things to make a production stand out and to be more unique. It can be anything from trying out different drums and tunings for different songs, or we can just try out different unusual microphones or equipment we don’t usually think of.

You use Miller & Kreisel speakers in your mixing studio – what makes these your preferred choice?

I struggled a lot with different monitors before I found M&Ks. Everyone told me that I need to get used to my monitors before I can trust them. I always wondered how long that process would take. It was nothing like that with M&Ks. There’s a truthfulness about the M&Ks where I immediately hear when something is wrong with my mix or recording. I feel that I can trust them 100%. I really love the accuracy, the transient response and also that clear midrange from M&K. I haven’t found that combination in any other monitors yet.

When it comes to drumming, movie fans often mention the movie, Whiplash – do you think the story is representative in any way amongst drummers pursuing their art or career?

I hope that times for those kind of band leaders are less common nowadays. I know there were some producers, band or orchestral leaders in the past years that believed that frightening the musicians would make perform even better. Maybe it worked sometimes, but I’m a firm believer in making music relaxed with as much fun as possible. I believe the discipline among great musicians is very high anyhow. It’s not uncommon for musicians to be overachievers.

Are there any upcoming projects that you can share with us?

I’m just starting this week working with a band called ’Stockholm Cowboys’. I hope this could be a fun project to share when finished.

Finally, please list some of your favourite music tracks, TV shows and movies.

So many great music in all styles. I’m a big fan of Daniel Lanois Productions. I love the kind of vibe that he creates when mixing contrasting sounds. Peter Gabriel’s SO album was always some kind of reference when I got into studio recording and mixing. I’m also a big fan of old blue note jazz recordings.

Movies, let’s see… I’m a huge fan of Cohen Brothers movies. For TV series, I recently finished The Haunting of Hillhouse – liked that one.

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